Sunday, October 1, 2017

Playtests: Ladies and Gentlemen

The playtests have begun! They're going well so far, and the first two groups are having a blast. We're really glad to be back on active testing to see new and edited systems in play and make sure the odd kink gets worked out as we go along, and just for the energizing ability to be playing Hero's Journey again! John has been a dynamo of energy for the past few setups and initial game sessions, and the player enthusiasm is truly a pleasure.

There are three groups of players, and as with most tabletop experiences, there are more male players than anyone else; eight of the testers in our pool right now are men and only three are women. Since distribution is a question with multiple testing groups, we decided to do a little experiment here; for the moment, all three women players are in one game, and the other two games are all men. We're not sociologists and nothing's peer-reviewed, but I found it interesting to observe the all-ladies game and see how play style and themes are a little different than they have been in mixed-gender groups that we've tested before.

Among other things, the all-women group leaned toward characters that were Fun, with a capital F; none of them made grimdark characters or came equipped with tragic backstories, with at most one character being a refugee from a natural disaster (but she's all right now and very happy in her new home) and another a multiple divorcee (but she's all right now and happily using the assets from her marriages for her own ends). The others are passionate scientists and activists, carefree party girls, and matronly ladies who take no shit but are happy and comfortable in their lives all on their own. This is a noticeable contrast with the characters from the dude groups, which include a great deal of angsty backstory - war, deportation, permanent injury, violent discrimination - and have a distinctly darker tone.

(Of course, neither of these broad "types" of characters is superior to the other; both dark and serious themes and light and fun feel are valid and enjoyable kinds of characters and stories. It's just interesting to me that the ladies all went bright and happy while the men went stressed out and sad, and if I had to make a totally baseless armchair analysis, I'd say that those were the result of very different escapism desires.)

So far, I've also noticed a difference between the kinds of intra-character interaction between the two groups. In the all-women game, there's a strong emphasis on cooperation; the characters live together, cooperatively share the burden of chores and payment for their lives, and make a point of conferring and sharing information before making decisions as well as placing a strong emphasis on group security and making sure that they stay together to protect each other. Conversely, the interactions in the all-men game are characterized by conflict and individualism; the characters live separately and alone and have their own assets, do not interact prior to getting shoved together by divine fiat, and are suspicious of each other and likely to have conflicting suggestions for what to do in a given situation, even once they decide to work together. Again, neither of these is necessarily a "better" way to play, but the difference between the two is pretty striking!

Even the first steps of the game were at odds - the Call to Adventure, the moment when the story says, "Hey, something's happening! Come be a part of it!" The characters in the all-women game, for the most part, suffered a few minutes of "are we sure this is safe?" concern before all committing fairly quickly to the idea of adventure as an exciting prospect, and are raring to go even though they have only a vague idea what they're going to be doing. The characters in the all-men game resisted the adventure vigorously, not wanting to leave their current jobs and plans or commit to something they didn't understand, and were much more uncomfortable, unhappy, and discombobulated by their brush with the divine even afterward.

What does all this mean? Who knows. Given that there are a zillion factors involved, these are just observations, but I might go on and keep doing them as the all-ladies game progresses; seeing how a game with all female characters and all female players might play out differently than literally every other game we've ever run or participated in (all of which were either mixed or all men) is a neat experience to chronicle!

I'm only observing the all-women game regularly, so you'll have to wave at John if you want more direct experience with the all-men games (one of which has already started, the other of which is still waiting in the wings!). We may swap players around and change the gender balance of the groups in the future - who knows where the campaign will go! - but for the moment, I'm just enjoying seeing a different play ecosystem than usual.


  1. I'd ask for a short Biography and intro for each Hero, but if you feel that that is better done as a post unto itself... can we please then have a list of which Gods these eleven Heroes are representing? Also, all three groups are acting in the same shared universe right?

    1. I think all that info should be in its own post for space. :)

      The current ladies-only game features Heroes who ride for Hathor, Dionysos, and Zeus, with backup characters not yet in play who work for Persephone and Brahma. The current dudes-only game features Heroes who stand for Ganesha, Tyr, and Demeter, with backup characters who work for Bastet, Sarasvati, and Hera.

      The third game isn't all together yet, so we'll hold off on them until they are. And yes, they're all in the same universe and can affect one anothers' stories!

    2. It has just been pointed out to me that this is wrong, because Persephone isn't even in the HJ core book. I meant Hel, the OTHER death goddess who got punted into the underworld without really being consulted about it first.

      Although one of the players for the third game finished up last night, so we can officially add Thoth as patron for one of those characters, with a backup character who works for Ares!

  2. I am having a giggle snort.

    Hope things are fun.

  3. Seconding the request for more character info. It would certainly help to give us a feel for the game - something I still don't really have after all this time. I'm also looking forward to future playtest updates.

    1. All right, I'll see about getting some posted soonish!